Those intriguing five words were sent via WhatsApp by a friend recently.
On reflection, they carry more weight than meets the eye.
As is commonly known, SOP stands for Standard Operating Procedure – a very big thing in the civil service and the armed forces.
If we go back to the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak, the government was earning high praise for its response. There was an SOP that the multi-ministry task force and Ministers could follow – a carry over from SARS on how to handle a pandemic.
SOP says testing and contact tracing
It boiled down to two things – aggressive testing and meticulous contact tracing. This was enough to contain the virus at the early stage and they thought victory was in sight.
But COVID-19 is not like SARS and once it started to morph into something far bigger and more complicated and unpredictable, the Ministers couldn’t keep up because they had no SOP to fall back on.
Which explains why in the days to come, we would hear Ministers lamenting being misled by the World Health Organisation on mask wearing, being deprived of the benefit of hindsight, being unable to see one step ahead, and being unaware that a cluster could turn into many clusters and then one big explosion.
In retrospect, we now see that this is exactly how SOP Ministers would react.
SOP for circuit breaker – can’t go wrong
Then they announced the circuit breaker. This is where SOP Ministers could once again excel because there is an SOP to follow – aggressive implementation and enforcement followed by extensive media publicity.
Send as many officers out there as possible to catch people in the act of flouting the rules. Then publicise like crazy their misdemeanors and the penalties they face to scare people into staying home.
No foresight needed. No quick thinking and anticipation called for. No risk of being caught off guard.
Just follow SOP.
Every National Day is an SOP playbook
To have the best appreciation of how SOP reliant our leadership is, we only have to look at what happens every National Day.
During the National Day parade, there is without fail a heart-stirring moment of a video clip of Lee Kuan Yew saying something with fire in his belly – this is to convey a sense of nostalgia to older Singaporeans while serving as a teachable moment for the younger ones.
And at the National Day rally, while giving the report card on Singapore, the Prime Minister would invariably hark back to how Lee Kuan Yew and his comrades succeeded against all odds, especially in defeating the communists to bring about independence for Singapore.
To underscore the gravity of events of more than half a century ago, the Prime Minister might even pause and struggle to choke back tears.
All three Prime Ministers have used the same script. Tears are optional but the script remains the same. It is a tried and tested SOP.